Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Author N.K. Jemisin's Top 10 Books Read in 2010
Last month, N.K. Jemisin's reinvention of complex (heroic) fantasy, complete with flawed gods and many scheming humans, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, made Amazon's Top 10 Best SF/Fantasy for the year at #5. Her follow-up, The Broken Kingdoms, was published this winter and is as good or better.
Along with the other writers who made the list, she's been invited to provide her own list of her favorite reads in 2010. (For these lists, the authors can list either books published in 2010 and enjoyed or just read in 2010 and published earlier, or a mix.) Here's Jemisin's list, with short intro. Some great choices here!
by N.K. Jemisin
I don't have a lot of time for reading these days, so my top ten consists mostly of books that have come out a few years before the present. (But they're all still in print, so go get 'em!) Also, though I'm a fantasy writer, I read an eclectic mix of stuff--science fiction, fantasy, horror, YA, a bit of nonfiction for worldbuilding research and fun. So my list will draw from all of these categories. These are in no particular order, note.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)--Like most fantasy writers, I read a lot of history. This book, which summarizes the last few decades' worth of research in a cross-disciplinary melange of history, anthropology, and sociology, blew my mind. It debunked all sorts of misconceptions about pre-colonization America--and pre-colonization Americans--that I'd been taught in school. It also illustrated how science can be subverted to serve political goals, with devastating long-term consequences. Powerful stuff.
The Silver Ship and the Sea (Brenda Cooper)--After a long break, I've been dipping into hard science fiction again, trying to find books that are as strong on writing as they are on ideas, and which treat the so-called "soft" sciences with the same respect as physics, astronomy, etc. Brenda Cooper's work sits right in my personal sweet spot, and this book -- the start of a brilliant trilogy about the genetically-engineered future of humanity, and human prejudice -- was both satisfying and heartbreaking. Beautifully written, too.
Feed (Mira Grant)--Y'know, I like a good zombie apocalypse as much as the next girl, but I have to admit that I was getting a little tired of the usual stuff: slow-shuffle zombies or fast-boogie zombies, chainsaw or double-tap, blah blah blah. In Feed we're introduced, finally, to something new: life after the zombie apocalypse, and its effect on politics and the media. And Georgia, a tenacious journalist who'll risk anything, even her (after)life, for the truth. Bonus points for really cool epidemiology!
A Madness of Angels (Kate Griffin)--If I ranked the fiction on this list, this book would probably be at the top of it. Magical London has been done before, of course, but rarely with such cleverness and sheer artful prose. Griffin's reluctant hero, sorcerer Matthew Swift, is forced to solve a most peculiar mystery: finding the person(s) that killed him and brought him back to life. Along the way he battles monsters made of garbage, bargains with living urban legends, and weaves spells out of the fine print on subway tickets. It's chewy, brilliant stuff, as is the recently-released (worthy) sequel, The Midnight Mayor.
Elegy Beach (Steven R. Boyett)--This may be the best sequel I've ever read, though it can easily stand on its own. 20 years ago, Boyett wrote Ariel: A Book of the Change, about a boy and his unicorn traveling across a transformed America in which magic replaced technology. Boyett re-visits and updates this world through the eyes of Fred, a young man who's never used a computer, but who helps create "spellware", magic built on the principles of software and systems design. Unfortunately, his partner in the process goes megalomaniacal and has to be hunted down before he can reverse the Change -- and destroy everything Fred loves. Boyett doesn't flinch, by the way, at showing us just how different the children of this Changed world really are; Fred is as fun-loving and impulsive as any teenaged boy, but his thought processes are deeply alien in many ways. It's challenging, soul-stirring stuff.
Under the Dome (Stephen King)--As a fantasy reader, I'm used to phonebook-sized tomes, but even I was intimidated by this 800-page whopper. Still, with the help of an ebook reader and a seven-hour flight to London, I decided to tackle it... and was riveted, utterly riveted, for every. single. page. King's at his best in this one, as he focuses on a small town caught within a mysterious forcefield. They're far more threatened by the ugliness of some of their fellow citizens than by the strange entities that trapped them.
Deer Hunting With Jesus (Joe Bageant)--Another nonfic pick, this one decidedly political -- but also one I picked up partly for its worldbuilding value. Bageant is a self-proclaimed good ole boy who went west and turned hippie, then returned to his dying rural Virginia hometown to try and figure out why the people there kept voting against their own interests. His conclusions are both hilarious and painfully bittersweet, and a fascinating (well, to me) examination of how political manipulation works.
Who Fears Death (Nnedi Okorafor)--At last, congruity with the Amazon top 10 list! But this one deserves to be on everyone's top ten. It's tough reading; the story is set in a future Sudan that's still undergoing the kind of horrific interethnic conflict that's currently afflicting the Darfur region. Amid this violence, young Onyesonwu -- the product of rape used as a weapon of war -- must master her innate magic before a terrifying sorcerer -- her biological father -- can destroy her and her mother's people. Yet despite this epic plot and disturbing realism, this is a beautifully-written coming-of-age tale. Expect tears of horror and joy from this one.
Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik)--I've been a raging fan of Novik's Temeraire novels for years now. Set in an alternate-universe Napoleonic era in which sentient dragons serve as an early air force, they're a delightful homage to both Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels, and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. This latest outing takes Temeraire and his boy Laurence to Australia, where they encounter bunyips and a burgeoning threat to British imperialism. It's not my favorite of the Temeraire novels to date -- I still like the fourth and fifth books of the series (Empire of Ivory and Victory of Eagles) best. But it's a worthy entry, and leaves me hungry for the next one.
Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)--I've been trying to familiarize myself with YA lately, so picked up The Hunger Games on the recommendation of a friend. Holy guacamole; YA has come a long way since the days when Judy Blume was edgy! This tale of a horrifying dystopia in which teens must fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses is about as gripping as it gets. So you can imagine how excited I was for the trilogy's conclusion, as our heroine Katniss becomes the leader of a revolution. I was worried that the finale wouldn't live up to my anticipation, but it actually surpassed it. Brava, Katniss, and long live the Mockingjay.